Student Historians Shed Light on Untold Stories from WWI

Student Historians Shed Light on Untold Stories from WWI
Posted on 04/20/2023
Student Historians Shed Light on Untold Stories from WWIAt Glebe Collegiate Institute, young historians are uncovering the stories, lives, and legacies behind a collection of First World War medals. Students in Jessica McIntyre’s Grade 10 History class have teamed up with the Canadian War Museum to contribute to The Medals Project – an online database that provides new insights into the soldiers and nurses represented in the museum’s medal collection.

The students’ journey starts with a name. Each medal in the collection is engraved with the name of its recipient, and students search through databases and archives to piece together their biography. 

The impact of their work is already being felt in the community. Students Hayden M. and Graeme W. are researching the life of William Frederick West, who enlisted in WWI as a young man and was awarded the Victory Medal for his service. They were able to connect with West’s daughter, who did not know that her father’s medal was in the museum’s collection. She provided family photos and stories, helping the students create a more in-depth record of West’s experiences at the front and life after the war.

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When the class submits their research, they will have an opportunity to visit the museum and see the medals in person. Here’s what students had to say about their experiences:


“It's almost like a mystery that we’re trying to unveil, just trying to go through 44 pages of documents that are from more than 100 years ago now. It's really cool that this was a person that was actually living and had such an interesting life that we are now learning about. Going in depth into the life of an actual person and that makes learning history so much more real.” - Owen N.

“I think it's very important for us to delve deep into not only the bigger concepts of history but the individuality of the people who suffered in war. They were real, they were human and to understand the real horrors of history, the wars, the genocides, we have to look at the people, and I think Project True North is a really good way to do that.” - Lizzie D.

“It is really profound that we as youth, as young people, who are still in highschool are given this opportunity to look at history in a way that other people have not yet looked at yet before. It is really inspiring.” - Layla-Bjort T.


This project is the latest chapter in the school’s involvement in Project True North, a District-wide initiative led by the Innovation and Adolescent Learning department. Since its inception in 2021, more than 2,000 students have worked on projects that shed light on individuals whose voices, stories, and contributions have been missing from common narratives about Canadian history. Across the District, students have created more than 1,300 profiles commemorating the lives of Black soldiers and Nursing Sisters from WWI. 

Watch this video to see how Glebe students have engaged in the project:

Harry Timothy Jones and the No. 2 Construction Battalion

In 2021, Jessica’s class was one of over 20 classes across the District that collaborated to build the first-ever database of the men of the First World War No. 2 Construction Battalion. The largest Black unit in Canadian history, the Battalion supported the war effort while facing segregation and discrimination in Canada and abroad. For decades, their contributions went largely unrecognized.

English Language Learners at Glebe helped to honour this important chapter in history by exploring the life of soldier Harry Timothy Jones. They pieced together his story from military service files, medical records, and other primary sources. Born in New Brunswick, Jones went overseas in 1917 to support logging operations. In France, Jones was injured by a falling tree that left his arm permanently paralyzed, and he returned to Canada with a medical discharge. The students mapped out his family tree and found a living relative – Jones’ great-great-grandson – with whom they shared his story. You can read more about the project in this CBC story.
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Photos: Khalid Abdi

Students also collaborated on a bilingual museum exhibit called the Untold Stories of the Great War / Histoires Inédites de la Grande Guerre. They created a scale model of the SS Southland (which brought the Battalion to Europe), a timeline, a map of the soldiers’ birthplaces and postings, artwork, and audio-visual displays commemorating the name of each soldier. Their work was shared across the District in the OCDSB’s virtual Remembrance Day ceremony and featured in a joint project with the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
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The Nursing Sisters

Last year, Glebe students turned their efforts toward uncovering the stories of the Nursing Sisters – young Canadian women who cared for soldiers at the front during WWI. They filmed a documentary about the 14 Nursing Sisters who passed away aboard the H.M.H.S. Llandovery Castle. The students also explored the stories of the nurses stationed on the Greek island of Lemnos. As they dug through diaries, documents, and photos, a picture of the arduous conditions at the 500-bed makeshift hospital began to emerge.


''As we share the stories of these brave women who perished, we hope to bring recognition not only to them for their ultimate sacrifice, but to highlight the narratives of many Canadians whose stories have not yet been told in our history textbooks. It is our honour to use our voices today, to speak for these brave women who can no longer speak for themselves.'' - Grade 10 students


Students shared their research with undergraduate classes at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, with the support of professors Dr. Dominique Marshall and Dr. Kathleen Moss. They worked together to profile the nurses’ stories online, making their legacies and contributions accessible to future generations. They also
shared their findings with the CBC

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